Dr John Hawkins
Welcome to my bit of the Maison de Stuff,
home to a huge load of pictures,
and my daily blog.
My email address is as above - I've put it in an image in a vein attempt to reduce the amount of spam I get.
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Maison de Stuff
- Recent Entries:
- Kate's Birthday Party
Boring night in
Getting Ready for Burns Night
Shopping for Burns Night
Drinks with the Boys
Cheltenham and Malvern
Korean and Japanese Food
A Drive in the Country
A Bit of a Farce
Thank Crunchie It's Friday
More of the Same
Second Day Back
First Day Back
The Incredible Journey
New Year's Day
New Year's Eve
Up to North Wales
Over to Abergavenny
- Kate's Birthday Party
- [Saturday 29th January]
The daytime was pretty uneventful, but in the evening we headed over to Rob and Kate's for a fancy dress party to celebrate Kate's 25th birthday. It's been a while since I last went to a fancy dress party, and I have to say I had a really fun time. Probably the pictures say it best.
- Boring night in
- [Friday 28th January]
Had a pretty boring night in mainly. Knee was still hurting quite a bit so didn't particularly feel like going anywhere that might involve any walking. For dinner had butter rice, broad beans in tomato and olive oil, and fried halloumi. This was actually very nice.
- [Thursday 27th January]
I seemed to have lots of things going wrong with me today. I'd already had a sore throat for a couple of days, which was starting to feel like I had broken glass lodged in my windpipe. On top of this, just as I was leaving work, given that it was pitch black I managed to walk into a bollard kind of thing, bashing my knee quite severely in the process. I spent the rest of the evening hobbling around in pain.
Chie very kindly agreed to make dinner - we had kitsune udon which was very nice. Watched Farenheit 9/11 on the telly after dinner, which filled me with a predictable state of misery about having another four years of the Bush administration to put up with. Ho, hum.
- Channel Four
- [Wednesday 26th January]
I was sent off to work at Channel Four today, which was something of a challenge as naturally after the previous evening's revelling I had something of a hangover. As they go (for me) it was a pretty minor one - and I was grateful of the wisdom of just sticking to whisky, and not supplementing this with a glass or two of wine, a can of beer, etc... The highlight of the visit to Channel Four was lunch - the guy who works on the till in the canteen is quite superbly camp, and really ought to be on TV. My lunch came to four pounds and ten pence or something like that, so I handed him a tenner initially, and then asked if the ten pence would help, to which he repiled "You'd make an old queen very happy love." Excellent work - if only all people who worked on tills were as entertaining as this.
On the way back home I decided to get off at Maidenhead so I could go the rest of the way back with Chie by car. We picked up a pizza at a new pizza place we hadn't been to before (called Fat Mama's or something like that - and it was rather good), and spent the rest of the evening being extremely lazy guzzling pizza and watching telly. We watched some of a film (The Wisdom of Crocodiles?) that Chie had recorded a while back. I was really knackered so went to bed pretty early.
- Burns Night
- [Tuesday 25th January]
After much preparation and planning Burns Night had finally arrived! There was some confusion about the amount of people coming - having been working on the assumption of 6, which then dropped to 5 the day before, I was pleasantly surprised that in the end we managed a very respectable 10. This of course meant a bit of a last minute rush in the kitchen to make sure there was enough food for everyone, but I think we managed fine in the end.
The bulk of the guests arrived at about 8:30 or so, and we commenced with Sam, our resident 100% bona fide Scotsman, reading the Selkirk Grace and my own take on Scotch Broth - no meat, and with a French Onion soup style cheese topped crouton. This seemed to meet with general approval, which was an encouraging start. The main was of course haggis, neeps and tatties, piped in (OK I played an MP3 of Amazing Grace on bagpipes), and then addressed at the table by me with the traditional Ode to a Haggis. Following on from this, for dessert I served Marr's Hurdies, which is of course a totally made up name - Marr being the surname of the Scottish part of my family, and Hurdies meaning buttocks. This consisted of shortbread, clotted cream ice cream and raspberries in a whisky syrup. After dinner we had a bit more of Burns work in a sort of address to / reply from the lassies, whereby Rob and Kate read a stanza each at a time from the mouse / louse poems. This I think worked rather well, particularly Rob doing each stanza in a different comedy accent (honestly, hilarious, although at the risk of using an already worn out cliche you had to be there).
Having never been to a Burns Night before, let alone held my own, I wasn't sure how it would turn out, but on balance I don't think it could have gone much better. Even the poetry reading bits which I thought would be awkward and embarassing were surprisingly entertaining. Clearly plenty of whisky helped this somewhat, but still all in all it was a really great night. There are of course a few pictures of the evening.
- Getting Ready for Burns Night
- [Monday 24th January]
Spent the evening preparing for Burns Night - tidying up the flat and making Scotch Broth. Not much else to report really!
- John Barleycorn
- [Sunday 23rd January]
Some of my favourite days are like this, those that are driven by whims. Having been recently researching Burns poetry for my forthcoming Burns Night, I'd obviously come across "Ode to a Haggis" - perhaps the most important poem for that particular occasion. On one site there was a footnote at the bottom of the poem noting that the last stanza was originally written:
Ye Pow'rs wha gie us a' that's gude
Still bless auld Caledonia's brood,
Wi' great John Barleycorn's heart's bluid
In stoups or luggies;
And on our boards, that king o' food,
A gud Scotch Haggis!
For some reason this stanza had been completely changed, and the reference to John Barleycorn removed, making the name all the more enigmatic to me. Anyway, that mention of John Barleycorn here struck a chord - there's a pub called that in Goring. It turns out that John Barleycorn is in fact the subject of another piece of Burns poetry:
There was three kings into the east,
Three kings both great and high,
And they hae sworn a solemn oath
John Barleycorn should die.
Anyway, after a certain amount of (quite uncharacteristic) poetic research, I decided we should make our mission today to forge a pilgrimage over to the John Barleycorn. Better still, we'd do it on foot. The walk was a little longer than we remembered - getting on for 2 hours - and towards the end Chie was clearly starting to get a bit fed up with the cold and everything...! But I'm sure it was worth it in the end - on arriving at the John Barleycorn I was filled with that wonderful sense of achievement you get when engaging in one of these whim-driven pursuits. Had a few very nice pints of Brakspears whilst there, and also stayed for dinner. They're under new management, and the new people were extremely friendly, the beer was excellent, the food was very nice (apparently they have grand plans for a fish restaurant or something) and altogether we had a very nice time there. Lovely.
- Dressing Up
- [Saturday 22nd January]
In the morning/early afternoon we went into town to sort out a few things. I finally got around to going to the Post Office to send off for my driving license. Chie had had her eye on some shoes since mid-week but was still unable to make a decision. I bought an ice cream scoop and a tape of Scottish fiddle music, both requirements for my forthcoming Burns Night. On top of that we had lunch in the new Wagamama - the first time we'd ever been to one of these, having steered clear on the assumption it would be far too English-ised (Anglacised?) as Japanese food goes, and we'd find it pretty disappointing. Actually it wasn't too bad, although perhaps Chie was a bit more critical than I was, as you'd naturally expect. We also bought bits for our costumes for Rob and Kate's fancy dress party, in a week's time.
On returning from town, we spent the afternoon like two kids playing "dressing up", which was really fun. We both assembled and tried on our costumes for Rob and Kate's fancy dress party. Then I wanted to try on my new kilt again, and find a shirt/jacket again to go with it. Once I had the kilt on as part of a proper outfit I really started to get into the whole concept, and the 1/8th of me that is Scottish welled up with national pride. I toyed with the idea of wearing a kilt to our evening engagement, but in the ended chickened out and went for a regular suit instead (this obviously required more dressing up).
In the evening we had Chie's office party (see here for pictures). This was held at Pinewood Studios. We went by car, picking up Andy and Masako en route. Had a nice time all in all - particularly enjoyed the rather bizarre side attractions - roulette and Scalextric.
- [Friday 23rd January]
Had a couple (literally just two) of pints after work with the usual crowd, and then went home. Surpisingly on my arrival Chie was not back yet, having gone to the gym, so I set about trying to make dinner for when she got back. This was made slightly more of a challenge having had a bit to drink, but came out rather well in the end nonetheless. I did what I (perhaps mistakenly) call potatoes Dauphinois, with some Quorn fillet thingies and some broad beans. Actually rather good. Didn't do much the rest of the evening.
- Shopping for Burns Night
- [Thursday 20th January]
To be on the safe side, I decided we ought to do the shopping for my forthcoming Burns Night (Tuesday 25th) a few days early, to make absolutely sure we could get the essentials (haggis, etc). This was a good excuse to go to Waitrose - Chie is always a bit reluctant for financial reasons, but given a choice I would shop there more or less every time. I started to formulate a menu for the Burns Supper - obviously haggis, neaps and tatties as the centrepiece, but I'm keen to make the whole thing as Scottish as possible from start to finish. So I'm toying with the idea of a Scotch Broth as a starter, although a vegetarian version (i.e. no lamb) will present an interesting culinary challenge. For dessert, I have a very nice jar of raspberries preserved in a kind of whisky syrup - a Christmas present from my uncle, which I thought, with the addition of a few Scottish extras could make a very nice and simple dish. So all I'm short of is some interesting nibbles and that ought to do it. Of course, I'm now faced with the ardurous task over the next couple of days of choosing a whisky to go with each course, which will no doubt require at least one lengthy tasting session, but I'm pretty sure I can struggle through this wholly undesirable chore for the sake of being a good host, etc.
- Drinks with the Boys
- [Wednesday 19th January]
Went for a few drinks with some of my "co-workers" as they say in America. It was a pretty standard evening in format (Nando's followed by pub), but I enjoyed it nonetheless. Went for "hot" in Nando's, which I was really quite surprised by - I thought I was used to pretty hot food, and in a chain like this it was never going to be particularly hot. But actually, it is really quite hot. I made a mental note not to bother trying "extra hot" at any point in the future. Somehow by the end of the evening I ended up inexplicably really quite drunk, and don't remember a huge amount about getting home, or subsequently being at home - I think Chie has suggested this may have been one of those falling asleep with your clothes on sorts of incidents. Bizarre really, as I don't recall drinking that much, but still, sometimes it just seems to get you that way. Felt a bit rough the next morning, but as my hangovers go this was barely noticeable - I felt almost entirely better by about 9:30.
- Not Much
- [Tuesday 18th January]
Not much happened really. Chie went to the gym so got back late, by which time I was absolutely starving. Had jacket potatoes for dinner, which were quite nice. Spent the rest of the evening watching telly and reading, and went to bed early as I've been really knackered of late.
- [Monday 17th January]
It was five years today since me and Chie met for the first time. Five years! We weren't particularly planning on doing anything on the night, having already had a celebration kind of thing at the weekend... but when Chie got home we realised we were both in pretty shitty moods, thanks to work etc, and so decided we really ought to go out to avoid having a really unpleasant evening stuck indoors feeling crap.
First off we drove over to Reading University, went into the Student's Union, and had a drink in the bar there where we very first met. This was particularly nice as that was also a Monday night when we first met there. After that we headed into town for something to eat and settled on Dolce Vita. This was decided on the grounds that it should be somewhere we'd previously been to back when I used to live in Reading all those years ago, but haven't been to since. The food was actually very good and the waitress that I remembered as having been really grumpy last time was really smiley and generally a shining example to waitresses everywhere. Overall a very nice night, and I'm glad we decided not to stay in!
- Cheltenham and Malvern
- [Sunday 16th January]
We started off the morning with a very respectable hotel breakfast, and then gathered together our things and checked out. We went for another wander around the shops in Cheltenham on foot before getting in the car and heading off. We'd wanted to drink the spa waters, so went to the Pump Room, only to find disappointingly that due to some technical fault or something, we weren't actually able to drink the water.
Disappointed, but not altogether put off, I became quite determined that we would somehow drink some fresh spring water. So I decided we should go to Malvern. I'd been there as a kid a couple of times with my Dad, and recalled rather fondly an outlet by the side of the road, up on the hill, where the locals went to collect fresh mineral water. This is basically the same stuff that goes into bottled Malvern water (as sold by Schweppes), but of course it is absolutely free. After a phone call to my Dad for directions, we found the place with relative ease. This was possibly the high point of the weekend - it really doesn't sound like it ought to have been that great, but I guess you'll just have to believe me. We drank plenty there and then as it was just so tasty - probably the same reason why whisky tastes so good at the distillery, or wine at the vineyard. Luckily Chie had an empty bottle in the car so we could bring some back with us as well.
I drove most of the way home as Chie was a bit tired. She nodded off in the passenger seat for the last segment of the journey. When we got back we had Japanese food for dinner - including miso soup made with Malvern water - most water just has the wrong chemical composition for it, and never tastes quite right, but this was just perfect.
- [Saturday 15th January]
As mine and Chie's anniversary (five years!) was fast approaching, we'd decided we ought to go away for the weekend to celebrate. As we got nearer the time, the weekend away became somewhat contracted into just going away for one night somewhere. We'd originally planned to go to Cambridge, but at the last minute changed our minds and opted for Cheltenham instead. I have a secret liking for Regency architecture, and, according to some blurb I read somewhere, Cheltenham has more buildings in the Regency style listed than any other town or city in England.
We stayed at The Queen's Hotel, which I was rather pleased with. We arrived in Cheltenham just after lunchtime, checked in, and then went out for a wander. We had a look around the shops (obligatory as Chie was there) and then after that popped into a wine bar for a glass of rose champagne, where we got talking to one of the locals - a chap called Martin, who was very friendly. One of those incidents that make you go back home and say "Oh the people are so much more friendly in XYZ than here...".
After having looked around a few restaurants for dinner, in the end we decided to be lazy and eat in the hotel. The food was pretty good actually, but it was the standard of service that really shone out for me - which is a pretty rare comment for me to make. They were not just extremely courteous and attentive but actually smiled and seemed to be happy! How rare is that nowadays? Had a quick drink in the hotel bar before going off to bed - I had the Balvenie Founder's Reserve, which must have had a very strong Bourbon finish, to the point I pretty much thought I was drinking Bourbon.
- Dull Again
- [Friday 14th January]
Was hoping to go into London in the evening, but it didn't really work out in the end so I just stayed in. Chie didn't get back until about 10, having been to the gym, and then to have dinner with some friends, so I ended up having a pretty boring evening all told.
- [Thursday 13th January]
Nothing much happened. Had pies and sautee potatoes for dinner, which was quite nice.
- [Wednesday 12th January]
I handed in my resignation letter at work today. I have a two month notice period, so will officially finish work mid March. Kev suggested we should go out for a drink after work to mark the occasion, which turned into four or five. I guess I really should have spent the evening planning my future etc, but didn't really feel in the mood. Plenty of time for that over the coming weeks.
- Hitotsu Nomikai
- [Tuesday 11th January]
Really wanted to go out for a drink tonight, but couldn't think of anyone to go with who wouldn't be busy / not-in-the-mood, so eventually had to give up on that idea. I opted instead to have my own nomikai (Japanese for "drinking party"), and went to the shops to buy provisions - beer, nuts, tortilla chips, salsa dip, oh and a few bits and pieces for dinner. Chie got back late-ish as she'd been to the gym, and joined in a bit with my pointless drinking exercise. Impressively she managed an entire can of Stella without assistance, which is quite a feat for her. Made an insalata tricolore and a bit of pasta for dinner, although after all the beer and otsumami I wasn't particularly hungry.
- Korean and Japanese Food
- [Monday 10th January]
Had a meal involving more of the things we'd bought on Saturday's Korean shopping trip. It was sort of half way between Japanese and Korean - more Japanese in style, but using lots of Korean ingredients. I particularly enjoyed the Korean inari - the come with a little sachet of flakey bits (sesame seeds etc) to mix in with the rice which gives a bit more flavour. Also had some ha-wasabi (pickled wasabi leaves) which Chie's mum had sent a while back, and I didn't even realise we had. I absolutely love ha-wasabi, one of my absolute favourite things in Japanese food. Finished off the Korean fresh tofu which was pleasingly very good to eat raw, and one to bear in mind as it seems to be quite a bit cheaper than the usual Japanese version we buy. Ate quite a bit of Korean nori, which is a lot saltier and oiler than the Japanese one, so feels very bad for you, but is at the same time quite indescribably delicious. All in all very nice.
- A Drive in the Country
- [Sunday 9th January]
Having had a long day the day before, we got up pretty late - getting on for midday in fact. Had some Korean instant noodles for breakfast/lunch. I'd decided we ought to go for a walk somewhere. Last time my Dad was here he'd mentioned Inkpen Hill as being quite nice, so we got in the car and drove off in that direction. Predictably it started raining on route, and was also pretty cold and windy, so when we got to Inkpen Hill we weren't overly keen on getting out the car. We meandered back by way of Hungerford, where we stopped for a cream tea (although I rather controversially had a Ploughman's) at a little tearoom.
Had kimchi nabe for dinner, using some of the bits and pieces of Korean food purchased yesterday. It was very nice indeed, particularly accompanied by some OB (Korean Beer, which I'd also bought yesterday). Spent the remainder of the evening looking on the web for a nice place to visit next weekend.
[Click here to read more...]
- A Bit of a Farce
- [8th January 2005]
Today started out with a plan which seemed quite simple - to go to a Korean food shop in the afternoon, and then for me and Chie to both go off and see friends in the evening. Unfortunately en route this turned into something of a farce. We had a nice afternoon in New Malden, which apparently has a big Korean community, and therefore lots of Korean shops and restaurants. In retrospect we probably lingered a bit too long, and went to too many shops, but it wasn't really until we came to leave New Malden that it began to occur to us we might be late for our evening engagements... and then it transpired we had to go back via Paddington (in thick traffic), and then make a stop off at Maidenhead, and then for some reason took the A4 rather than the M4 for the rest of the way. I'd arranged to go for a "blokey night" at David's house, with the vague instruction to turn up between 7 and 7:30. When I finally got there it was more like 9:30. Chie was supposed to be entertaining at our flat, and her friends had got so hungry they'd given up and decided to eat elsewhere instead! Oh well, these things happen I guess!
- Thank Crunchie It's Friday
- [Friday 7th January]
Given the overwhelming blandness of this week I was naturally very pleased when 5:30 came along and the weekend began in earnest. Went for a few beers after work, first in the Copper and then afterwards in the Swan for a change. A bit later on Kev came over for an Indian takeaway - seems like a while since we did this, what with Christmas and everything.
- More of the Same
- [Thursday 6th January]
Well a theme definitely seems to be developing this week - one of sheer drudgery. I don't recall having ever had such a bland first week back at work before, but perhaps it's a bit like child birth: with a built in amnesia mechanism. Had a pretty dissatisfying sort of dinner - a few odds and ends of leftovers from Christmas that had been hanging around in the freezer. Didn't even feel in the mood for a drink or anything. Generally really, really bland. One of those days that might just as well have not happened at all.
- Second Day Back
- [Wednesday 5th January]
...much like the first, really. Another pretty uneventful day. Made chilli for dinner, which was quite nice. Didn't do much after that.
- First Day Back
- [Tuesday 4th January]
First day back at work after the Christmas / New Year break. I would like to say I returned refreshed and full of enthusiasm but that would be a bare faced lie - it was a drag. Anywho, it was a pretty uneventful day, both before and after work. Made a pasta dish for dinner, with my trademark spinach and dolcle latte sauce, which came out rather well although I say so myself. Drank a bottle of pretty ordinary Claret which was OK I guess.
- Spring Cleaning
- [Monday 3rd January]
It's been a funny sort of day, as Arkwright would have put it. Despite it being a bank holiday, I did actually have to pop into the office in the morning, as the alarm was going off. Somehow a bird had got inside and was flying around frantically trying to get out. I found a towel came in very handy for picking the little fellow up, and took him outside to let him fly off, which was a surprisingly pleasing experience.
Upon returning home I was feeling all virtuous and diligent so decided it would be a good time to take out the Christmas tree. Unfortunately, whilst I got the trunk and the majority of the branches out, almost all of the pine needles decided to remain in the house. After a rather futile attempt to clean these up with the crappy vacuum cleaner that came with the flat (including the predicatble bag bursting moment and everything) I decided it was high time to go out and buy a new one. For the princely sum of 59.99 I got an LG something or other which looks like a little robot, and handled the job brilliantly - my carpets have not looked so clean since I moved in.
The rest of the day was pretty uneventful - made a Mexican dinner (Quesadillas) and spent the rest of the evening watching telly mainly. Chie had previously recorded a film called Ghost World, which I actually really enjoyed, although it was one of those films where at the end you sort of feel like nothing has happened.
- The Incredible Journey
- [Sunday 2nd January]
Sadly all good things come to an end, and it was time for me and Chie to head back home to England. We aimed for an early start (about 9:30), as we had a long journey ahead of us. Again I drove to start off with, and for almost the first time since I passed my test I really felt like I was enjoying it - particularly the mountainous bits around Dolgellau. We got to Welshpool by about midday, where we had a very quick toilet break before pressing on. I even tackled a decent chunk of the motorway (M54/M6/M42/M40), and didn't concede and let Chie take over the driving until after Birmingham (at Warwick services on the M40). Was very pleased with myself. We had a 2 hour stop at Bicester Village (the outlet shopping centre place) where Chie did some shopping, whilst I wandered round Tesco, and finally got back home around 6ish. So probably about 6 hours driving in total. For dinner had a (ready made!) pizza and some salad, then spent the rest of the evening in front of the computer and/or the telly.
- New Year's Day
- [Saturday 1st January (2005!)]
2005 Eh? Went for a bit of an outing in the daytime - first to Criccieth for an antiques fair (where I just bought an old postcard of Charles Dickens' birthplace), and then on from there to the Welsh Language and Heritage Centre (for the scenery more than anything - the centre itself was closed) and then finally to a harbour near Dad's house on the way back to watch the rather stormy weather. It was a pretty dramatic sort of day weather-wise, and it was very nice when we got back in to a nice warm cup of tea, plus bizarrely some cheese. Had yet another big and lavish dinner lovingly prepared by my very talented father, after which we spent the rest of the evening rather lazily slumped in front of the telly.
- New Year's Eve
- [Friday 31st December]
Woke up fairly late. In the daytime at some point (around lunchtime?) we headed over to Abersoch for a nice stroll along the beach. On return we had another high tea, and then spent some time in the early evening lolling about the house, building up an appetite for dinner. Dinner was a very traditional hogmanay fair - haggis neaps and tatties, which we ate fairly late on in the evening. Plenty of booze went around as one might expect in the build-up to midnight on New Year's Eve. Thanks to Dad's Sky installation we were able to watch BBC Scotland for the actual countdown bit, which was jolly nice.
Just after midnight we decided it would be appropriate to go for a walk down to the sea - even Vera came with us. It was pretty much pitch black, except for the moonlight, and was a bit cold as you might expect... but somehow the sense of having actually gone out and done something was very satisfying. Particularly as I took with me my new hip flask (Christmas present from Chie) filled with Port Ellen which everyone had a good swig of when we got to the sea.
- Up to North Wales
- [Thursday 30th December]
The next leg of our road trip saw us heading up to the Llyn Peninsula (North Wales) to my Dad's house, with Vera in tow (not literally of course). We set off from Vera's house nice and early - around 9ish. I drove for the first bit - up as far as Machyllneth (read: Ma-hunth-leth), the last hour or so of which is a fantastic drive on mountain roads. We stopped in Machyllneth for lunch. Having craved a bag of chips, we actually ended up going to the other extreme and eating at the wholefood cafe there, which was actually very nice indeed. After lunch, Chie took the wheel and drove us for the remainder. We arrived at my Dad's around 3, at which point my Dad's usual onsalught of wonderful hospitality began - a high tea, which more or less merged into a very lavish dinner. Wonderful.
- In Abergavenny
- [Wednesday 29th December]
Had a quiet and restful day in Abergavenny. Went for a little wander around the town centre in the daytime. Popped into a cafe place for some lunch, and briefly visited the flea market where I bought a couple of little jugs for putting water in to serve with whisky. Around 5ish Alex and Katie popped in for a brief visit. For dinner we largely tried to finish off left overs from the previous day. Spent the latter part of the evening looking through some of Vera's old photos.
- Over to Abergavenny
- [Tuesday 28th December]
The first leg of our post-Christmas relative visiting road trip took us to Vera and Robin's house in Abergavenny. On arrival we had a rather lavish buffet lunch laid on by Robin et al, and we also had a chance to see Aileen, Louise, Ian and my cousin Beck.